Focus on COEH Graduate: Deputy Chief Deborah Gold, Cal/OSHA

The timing could not have been better for the introduction of Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Standard, recalls graduate Deborah Gold, MPH ‘93. She and her colleague Robert Nakamura wrote the standard, the first of its kind in the nation, mandating employers to protect and immunize health care workers and high risk employees from aerosol transmissible diseases that spread from person to person through the air such as tuberculosis, SARS, and pandemic flu.

Within the year California’s pertussis epidemic of 2010 arrived. Over 9,000 people became ill. Of those, 809 were hospitalized and 10 died during the state’s largest outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in over 60 years. The standard, which became law in July 2009, helped shape Gold’s career.

“Because the ATD standard kicked in around the time of pertussis outbreak, I got a chance in my job to see our regulation at work in assisting public health departments. People like Kathy Harriman, who coordinated California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) pertussis response, took the bull by the horns and helped to reduce the impact of that epidemic. She really saved lives by making sure institutions received the guidance and scientific reports they needed. I don’t think people on the outside understand how much worse that outbreak would have been had it not been for the intervention of the CDPH. Our standard, which required employers to provide the Tdap [Tetanus, Diphtheria and acellular Pertussis] immunization to health care workers, was part of that effort. ”

At the time, Gold was a senior industrial hygienist and safety engineer for Cal/OSHA. By 2011, Governor Jerry Brown would appoint her Deputy Chief for Health and Engineering Services after she had taken the lead on a number of other important projects.

“Deborah Gold represents exactly what we have come to rely on from COEH graduates — the best minds and a true dedication to public service,” says the State of California Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker.

“The program at Berkeley couldn’t have prepared me better for my career,” said Gold. As an industrial hygiene student in the School of Public Health, she took a course with Bob Cooper. “We were his last class,” added Gold. “He was a guy who knew about sewage and water treatment. The first time I did a sewage treatment plant inspection I knew what was going on because of him.”

“His class covered infectious pathogens and how they spread. Microbial pathogens have become a big issue: blood borne pathogens, and pathogens transmitted by aerosols, including Valley Fever, which is transmitted by spores in some soils. Although he didn’t address those pathogens specifically, you learned the principles,” said Gold.

Other lessons still resonate. For example, “I use my statistics training when I evaluate employer data sets. All the courses – in one way or another – provided a basis for the work we do here. It was an incredibly useful program.”

In her role as deputy chief, Gold oversees many areas. One is the health program that includes the medical unit and the Research and Standards Health Unit, which develops regulations and maintains surveillance of occupational health issues, as well as the Research and Standards Safety Unit. She is also responsible for the Public Safety Units. They inspect and permit elevators, rides, aerial tramways, and pressure vessels, among other things. The Calibration and Inventory Control Laboratory, or CALICO, is also under her umbrella.

A number of occupational health and safety issues are high on Gold’s radar. “The CDPH is proposing changes to our lead standard. We’ll be working on this over the next couple of years. We’re also working on blood borne and other types of pathogens in the adult film industry. We have a safe patient handling regulation that’s about to come onto the books in 2014. I think it’s going to reduce injuries.”

Permissible exposure limits to hazardous substances is another high-priority project, in addition to the heat illness prevention campaign. “When most people think about heat stress they think about agricultural and construction workers, but there are a lot of other employees who are exposed to heat, for example, workers who prevent and fight wildland fires, and those involved in forestry. We’re putting in a lot of effort into running an effective program to protect workers from heat illness.”

Gold encourages students to think about a career at Cal/OSHA or in a public health department. “We have a lot of alumni from COEH. Some are just starting their career with us and others are in leadership positions, or are moving into them. They are all making a contribution. For all the frustrations that anyone may have working in a bureaucracy, in the end, you get to have an impact and save lives. It’s an exciting career,” said Gold.



COEH Grads at Cal/OSHA

Garrett Brown, SPH ‘91, CIH,
Senior Safety Engineer – Special Projects, Headquarters, Division of Occupational Safety and Health

Janice Prudhomme, SPH ‘96, MD,
Manager of the Cal/OSHA Medical Unit, Oakland

Robert Nakamura, SPH ‘74
Senior Safety Engineer, Research and Standards Health Unit, Oakland

Scott McAllister, SPH ‘76,
Senior Safety Engineer, Research and Standards Health Unit, Oakland

Amalia Neidhardt, SPH ‘96
Senior Safety Engineer, Region VI in Sacramento

Eric Berg, SPH ‘96
Senior Safety Engineer, Region VI in Concord

Chris Kirkham, SPH ‘98
Senior Safety Engineer, Region I in Oakland

Luis Ramon Mireles, SPH ‘92
Senior Safety Engineer, Region VI in San Diego

Patrick Corcoran, SPH ‘00
Compliance Safety and Health Officer, Sacramento District Office

Susan Eckhardt, SPH ‘85
Compliance Safety and Health Officer, Fremont District Office

Clement Hsieh, SPH ‘03
Compliance Safety and Health Officer, High Hazard Unit - North, Oakland

Shohreh Kheradpir, SPH ’01
Compliance Safety and Health Officer, High Hazard Unit - North, Oakland

David Hornung, SPH ‘07
Compliance Safety and Health Officer, Oakland District Office

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